One of the first estate planning documents that people are typically encouraged to draw up is an advance directive for health care. Anyone who’s legally an adult should have one, even if they don’t have a will yet.
In it, people typically state their wishes should they suffer a serious injury or illness that leaves them unconscious or unable to make decisions for themselves (for example, if they’re in a coma) regarding under what conditions they want life-prolonging measures taken or stopped.
The role of your agent
It’s usually best to give a trusted relative or friend power of attorney (POA) to act as your agent. This gives them the authority to talk with your medical team (here in Reston or wherever you happen to be hospitalized) and see that your wishes are carried out. It can also give them the authority to authorize pain medications beyond the recommended dosage.
For people who are being treated for certain mental health conditions, it’s also wise to include some provisions in your advance directive that address the kinds of psychiatric treatment you do and don’t want if you’re in crisis and unable to make those decisions or communicate your wishes. You can also include the medications you’re taking.
Some states have a separate psychiatric advance directive (PAD) form. Other states, like Virginia, allow these matters to be addressed in the traditional advance directive for health care.
An advance directive can help if you’re having a mental health crisis
The important thing is that your wishes are codified in a legal document to help mental health providers and law enforcement agencies should you be away from home and in crisis and prevent you from being subjected to involuntary treatment or confinement. Your health care agent can have the authority to talk with the appropriate professionals and advocate on your behalf.
Just as any advance directive is there only as insurance should a serious medical condition leave you comatose or without your usual faculties, the same is true of provisions for potential psychiatric care. Millions of people suffer from some kind of mental health condition that could leave them unable to advocate for themselves if they were without their medication or experiencing a crisis.
If you need to address psychiatric care in an advance directive, get experienced legal guidance so you can create documents specific to your needs.